With the toughest part of its schedule right around the corner, Wisconsin knew it had to take care of business at home.
The Badgers did just that, capping off a three-game home stand with a blowout victory over Penn State, 86-55 Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin improved to 15-4 (5-2 Big Ten) with its fifth consecutive victory.
Kirk Penney continued his hot streak, leading the Badgers with 28 points and six rebounds, hitting 10-of-15 shots from the floor. The performance placed Penney in Wisconsin's all-time career scoring top 10. Freddie Owens added 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
The Badgers own the longest winning streak in the Big Ten Conference, winning their last 12 conference home games and 11 of the last 13 Big Ten games overall. But four of their next six games are on the road.
Looming on the horizon is a date at first-place Purdue, where the Badgers haven't won in 30 years. But Coach Bo Ryan couldn't be more pleased with how his team has handled its opponents at home, turning things around following an 0-2 start in conference play.
"I don't know what I would change," Ryan said. "We keep probing every day, trying to get better…I'm proud of the guys, but I think there are still areas people know they can still exploit us. I don't know how good we are yet."
Wisconsin didn't reveal many weaknesses against Penn State. The Nittany Lions didn't put up much of a fight, trailing by 15 points less than 10 minutes into the game. For the second consecutive game, the Badgers built a substantial early lead with hot shooting and dominance inside.
Wisconsin shot 70 percent from the floor in the first half, and 60.7 percent for the game. The 50-point first half output was the most points scored in a half for UW this season.
Ryan said his team's first half performance ranks among the best he's coached at any level.
"To be real honest, I don't know too many times I've been on the coaching end of watching a team do that – defensively have a team shoot under 30 percent and have your team shoot 70 percent," Ryan said.
After outrebounding Northwestern 42-21 Wednesday night, the Badgers won the battle of the boards 39-22, while 54 of their 86 points were scored inside the paint.
Penn State Coach Jerry Dunn said two freshmen forwards, Aaron Johnson and Robert Summers, struggled to display the consistency they've shown earlier this season.
"I think when you play two or three freshmen in the starting lineup, you are going to have situations where there are going to be inconsistencies, and today was one of those days," Dunn said.
The Badgers frustrated Penn State early in the game with suffocating defense, recording six steals and allowing just 22 points in the first half. Wisconsin entered the game allowing just 55.7 points per game, the best mark in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin didn't let up in the second half, keeping its regular rotation in until the final minutes of the game. The Lions couldn't solve the Badgers' defense, shooting just 34 percent for the game.
Any Penn State hopes of climbing back were answered early in the second half, as Wisconsin went on an 8-2 run in the first five minutes, punctuated by an alley-oop dunk by Alando Tucker from Devin Harris, and a steal and dunk by Freddie Owens. The Badgers led by 41 points at one point, 69-28 with 11:18 remaining, but Penn State scored 15 points in the last five minutes of the game to make the score a little more respectable.
Harris' pursuit of Wisconsin's first triple-double in program history ended when he was pulled with just 2:16 remaining, one rebound shy of a double-double. He finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Equally impressive was Harris' defense on guard Brandon Watkins, who entered the game leading PSU with 14.6 points per game. Watkins was 1-for-8 from the field with just two points.
"I just wanted to take away his ability to score in the transition," Harris said. "Usually he scores a lot in transition. I knew if we got back and got set, he wouldn't be as effective as he normally is."
Penn State (5-13, 0-7 Big Ten) remains one of two winless teams in Big Ten action, tied for the league's worst record with Northwestern.
Sharif Chambliss, a Racine, Wis. native, led the Nittany Lions with 20 points, hitting six-of-17 shots. No other Penn State player finished in double figures.
The Badgers will try to continue their winning streak in West Lafayette Wednesday night, before visiting Northwestern Saturday afternoon. Penn State hosts Iowa Wednesday night before enjoying a bye next weekend.
Badgers Win Fifth Straight
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